John H. Murphy III, former publisher of the Afro-American Newspapers, considered among the most influential publications disseminating news for black readers, died Saturday at the Stella Maris Hospice. He was 94.
Mr. Murphy was the great-grandson of the paper's founder, former slave John H. Murphy Sr., and was born in Baltimore. He later moved with his mother to Philadelphia where he graduated from Overbrook High School and earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from Temple University in 1937.
After graduation, Mr. Murphy joined the family newspaper business and began working as the office manager at the Washington Afro-American.
In 1940, he married Alice Quivers, and they had two children.
"John worked just about all of his life at the Afro," said Camay Calloway Murphy, his second wife. She said he knew the business end from college but also was comfortable in every step of production, working with newspaper boys to editors at the paper during his career.
Mr. Murphy was named president of the Afro-American papers, which published a national edition and local versions in several East Coast and Southern cities, in 1967, succeeding his uncle Carl J. Murphy. He became board chairman and publisher in 1974.
"When he became president, the Baltimore paper became very popular," said Mrs. Murphy. "He knew things that weren't part of the white class — what African-Americans wanted to read," she said.
She said her husband was heavily involved in the community.
"He had an outgoing personality. He really liked people. He liked to communicate," his wife said. "He felt very strongly that with knowledge of what was going on, he could bring black people into the mainstream of things."
She said Mr. Murphy examined the features of white-oriented newspapers, and tailored them to attract middle-class black readers from Washington and Baltimore. Among his initiatives: a weekly insert to attract a higher volume of advertising. The supplement, Dawn magazine, allowed the paper to continue when many black newspapers went out of business.
Mrs. Murphy said "when people saw him, they thought about buying the paper," she said. "He was like a walking sandwich board himself."
Mr. Murphy retired as chairman of the board of the newspaper company in 1986.
"When he handed the paper over, he had something worthwhile to pass on to them," she said.
Mr. Murphy married Camay Calloway in 1980, a year after his first wife died. She is the daughter of Cab Calloway, the musician who was raised in Baltimore.
The two met an AFRAM luncheon.
"He was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father," she said. "He tried to make you happy despite all of the work he had to do."
She said even after work, he would make dinner — his specialty was kidney stew over waffles with fried apples for dessert.
Mr. Murphy was also a photographer, taking family pictures, as well as pictures for the Baltimore Times.
Mr. Murphy was a member of St. James' Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square for about 60 years, his wife said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Daniel Murphy of Georgia; a daughter, Sharon Murphy of San Francisco; and three grandchildren.
A wake is scheduled for Tuesday at the March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.; a funeral will be held at noon Wednesday with interment to follow.